August 08, 2022

Review: Despite the heckling, Buddy Guy takes Clearwater skin deep during annual blues gig

Buddy Guy
Photo by Josh Bradley
Buddy Guy
When you’re 86 years old, your national treasure status is generally the only feeling of mesmerization your audience will experience upon leaving a live show.

One of the very few exceptions to this theory is Buddy Guy, inspiration to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Gary Clark Jr.

Last Friday night in Clearwater—for the second time post-COVID—Buddy took the Ruth Eckerd Hall stage at 9:15 p.m. on the dot, clad in a satin lavender polka dot button down, very light blue jeans, and a baseball cap with the name of his partially eponymous Chicago bar on it. He immediately got “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues” out of the way while wiggling his junk, making faces, and howling out the lyrics like no time had passed at all.

Before diving into the longest, most entertaining classic blues rock medley you’ve ever heard (“Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Cheaper To Keep Her,” “I Just Want To Make Love To You”), he explained that the radio stopped playing his music once his lyrics got a bit obscene. “Then, after hip-hop came out…that’s why I curse once in awhile,” he admitted.

Some of those words definitely came out of the mouths of some members of the less-than-sold-out crowd’s mouths during bits and pieces of Guy’s 85-minute set.

In his eyes, anything is a guitar pick, more or less. He played random, but legitimate chords with both his floppy lavender sleeve, and a black sweat rag. Later, he laid his Stratocaster down on an amp, pedal steel-style, fingered the chords to “Sunshine Of Your Love,” and beat the strings with a drumstick.
Ruth Eckerd Hall watching Buddy Guy rock the back row. - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
Ruth Eckerd Hall watching Buddy Guy rock the back row.

But alas, all some people would do is holler at Buddy when he was trying to tell a story. Whether it was centered around Eric Clapton having to pay $20,000 for going 20 minutes over the Royal Albert Hall’s curfew once at a co-headlining gig, or around the hell he’s been through in his life, there was always an interruption of some sort. “This is Florida, you’re not gonna let me finish what I have to say, are you?” He pondered in his standard tongue-in-cheek fashion.

But at the end of the day, it was hard to piss the man off. “You know sometimes, if y’all will listen to me, I feel like I may be getting down on you, but I don’t mean that, man,” he explained later on. “I just like to…make somebody laugh.”

And there really wasn’t an ounce of hatred in his heart either, because right before his “Fever” finale, the man made his way up Ruth Eckerd’s stage right aisle, literally allowing a volunteer usher or two to strum his axe while he held chords in his left hand. Before I knew it, all backs were turned away from the stage—still featuring his four-piece band—and Buddy was shredding away from the back row of the venue.

When he’s is on the road, Buddy almost always brings along a slightly younger—albeit well-known—name in the industry to open for him. Last October, Kenny Wayne Shepherd got the cake, but this year, singer-songwriter John Hiatt, whose 75-minute opening set backed by The Goners featuring Sonny Landreth, was just as poignant of a showman, not having performed at Ruth Eckerd Hall since a 2008 gig with Lyle Lovett.
John Hiatt - Photo by Josh Bradley
Photo by Josh Bradley
John Hiatt

“Clearwater, Tampa, St. Pete, make up your mind!” Hiatt demanded after his “Tennessee Plates” opening. The singer-songwriter—weeks shy of his 70th birthday—shared sympathy for guitars that get smashed for music video pizazz—or for theatrical purposes—(“Perfectly Good Guitar”), thanked Bonnie Raitt for covering “Thing Called Love”—and for being a friend in general—and recalled hearing old men talking about…well, old man things, as a young adult. You know, medication, who’s dying, and piss stains on khakis. ”Shit like that,” he said.

He’s now a few weeks shy of his own 70th birthday, and if Hiatt has sung anything poignant in that time frame, it’s that time is our friend.

It has certainly helped an octogenarian guitar legend prosper.
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John Hiatt
Photo by Josh Bradley
John Hiatt
Ruth Eckerd Hall watching Buddy Guy rock the back row.
Photo by Josh Bradley
Ruth Eckerd Hall watching Buddy Guy rock the back row.
Buddy Guy
Photo by Josh Bradley
Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy
Photo by Josh Bradley
Buddy Guy

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.